Google, by far the leader in Internet searches, says it has revised its search formula to give people "fresher, more recent search results." It says the update is one of the bigger ones it's made in recent years, enough to affect about 35 percent of the searches people make.
"If I search for 'olympics,' I probably want information about next summer's upcoming Olympics, not the 1900 Summer Olympics," wrote Amit Singhal on The Official Google Blog. "Google Search uses a freshness algorithm, designed to give you the most up-to-date results, so even when I just type 'olympics' without specifying 2012, I still find what I'm looking for."
That algorithm -- a complex formula with hundreds of variables -- weighs myriad factors in deciding how to rank results when you look for something. It looks at the popularity of the source. It looks at how often the information is cited by other websites. And it looks for "freshness" -- how recently the information was posted. That's now been tweaked so that freshness looms larger.
"This algorithmic update is designed to better understand how to differentiate between the types of searches people are doing and the level of freshness they need, and make sure they get the most up to date answers," said a Google spokesperson in response to emailed questons.
Truth be known, Google is constantly tweaking its algorithms -- 500 times a year, it says. And when you type something into that little box, Google's computers don't go out on the Internet right then and there to look for answers; they do that constantly and "warehouse" the information for faster access.
But because of a new indexing system begun last year -- fittingly called Caffeine -- it now crawls the Web more quickly. If you search for "Barack Obama" or "Herman Cain," some of the information at the top of the list that comes back may be just minutes old.
If Google didn't do that, frankly, it would lose out to other sources, such as Facebook or Twitter, where people post information at, well, Internet speed.
There are other cases, of course, where you really don't want the newest information at all, and Google says about two-thirds of all searches will be unchanged. As Google points out, if you're looking for "fast tomato sauce recipe," you want something time-tested and proven. The latest, in that case, may not necessarily be greatest.